“The aggressive bird ‘flu – H5N1 – is a ‘global threat’”, said a recent meeting of European Union foreign ministers. At the same meeting, it was reported that European countries today have only 10 million doses of Tamiflu for 500 million citizens. The truth is that neo-liberalism and global capitalism are actively sabotaging the possibilities of preventing diseases and serious epidemics.
Profits and speculation come before medicines and the health service:
- One company alone, Roche from Switzerland, produces Tamiflu, the only medicine that can counter the effects of bird ‘flu on human beings.
- The health care needed does not exist for hundreds of millions of people around the globe. And where it exists, like in Sweden and the EU, cuts and privatisations, have reduced health care for workers and ordinary people.
- In the United States, for example, 100 times more is used for research on one anti-missile projects alone, compared with research on flu.
- The need for a global answer is obvious, but the WHO (UN health organisation) has only 12 people working on the ‘flu issue.
Even if some of the media are trying to create hysteria, is it true that the virus H5N1 in the worst case can develop into a pandemic (an epidemic to which no-one is immune and against which there exists no vaccine)? Out of the three pandemics in the 1900s, 30 million people died of the ‘Spanish ‘flu’ (1918), around one million in the ‘Asian ‘flu’ outbreak of 1958 and another one million from the ‘Hong Kong ‘flu’ in 1969. (There is also the ‘normal’ yearly flu that is a threat to elderly people in particular).
The WHO’s position is that a pandemic will arrive sooner or later, and that it can kill millions. The virus H5N1, in existence since 1997, has killed more than 100 million birds in South-East Asia. Of people catching H5N1, half of them – over 60 - have died. This is a sign of the high risk of death from the virus.
To create a pandemic, however, the virus has to mutate (go through a genetic mutation) so that people can infect people. This has not happened yet and it might never happen. It is also only after such mutation that a vaccine can be cultivated.
The alarm reports of recent weeks were caused by the virus starting to spread globally. Birds have died of H5N1 in Turkey, Croatia, Romania and Greece. The EU decided to ban imports from these countries. In Sweden and the rest of the EU, chickens, turkeys etc are ordered to be kept indoors.
The biggest threats, however, are in Africa - with almost no health care and a wide-spread incidence of Aids – and in China, where most people have no health insurance.
Today, hoarding and black market trade in Tamiflu is pushing the price up to 10 times what it is normally. The waiting list to get it is 15 months.
The sales of Roche have increased 20 per cent over the last three months. The company has offered four other drug companies negotiations for possible production of Tamiflu. The monopoly of Roche is already challenged by an Indian company, Cipla, and by the government of Taiwan, which will both start production of a generic version of Tamiflu.
A socialist programme against the threat from bird ‘flu must end the profit-seeking of the drugs industry:
- Nationalise the medical and drugs industry under democratic control in all countries
- A massive increase in research and production of medicines. Not just against bird ‘flu, but also against HIV, malaria, tuberculosis and other diseases
- For a global democratic plan for health care under the control of trade unions and rank and file organisations. Free health care and medicines for everyone according to need
- For global socialism – end all military armaments and parasitic exploitation